Accepted paper:

Ritual beyond belief: experiences at a Southern Indiana festival site


Lucinda Carspecken (Indiana University)

Paper short abstract:

Experience rather than faith provides the rationale for ritual at Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary. Ritual there also blurs mainstream religious categories that separate divinity from human and animal life, thus broadening the definition of spirituality and undermining some pervasive moral hierarchies.

Paper long abstract:

At Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary, a festival site in Southern Indiana, participants' religious definitions of themselves are idiosyncratic. Some describe themselves as Pagans, others as Christians, but more use unique and hybrid terms, like "agnostic forest freak," "scholastic theologian," or "non-denominational Taoist." While the community is neither faith-based nor homogenous, ritual is a core part of festival experience and of what draws people there. Arguments for and against faith-based religion tend to be polarized between those, like Kierkegaard, who maintain that faith is central to the "passion" involved in spiritual experience, and those who downplay the importance of ritual and spiritual experience altogether, along with religious faith. Lothlorien sidesteps this polarity, since experience rather than faith provides the rationale for ritual. Rituals there also often blur categories that underlie mainstream religion, being based in a worldview where there is less of a break between humans on the one hand and nature, sensation, "wildness" and emotion on the other, than is usual in the United States or Europe. This paper will be based in my fieldwork at Lothlorien, beginning in 2006 and continuing until the present day. Besides drawing on interviews I will describe some of my own participation in drum circles and ceremonies at Lothlorien. I will argue that experience-based ritual could offer a valuable direction for spiritual practice in the twenty-first century.

panel P210
Ritual creativity, emotions and the body